To the Editor:
Every time I drive to and from Bryson City, I become distressed by the volume of litter along our roads. I have lived here close to 40 years, and the litter problem seems to be worse than ever. I am distressed, not so much for the sake of tourism, but for the lack of pride in the place we live out our lives on a daily basis — our home. We can do so much better for ourselves, for our children, and for our grandchildren.
A coordinated approach to our litter problem could make our county a more beautiful place to live and a place where tourists would want to return year after year. None of the ideas I want to share with you are new, but they are all workable. Here are my suggestions:
1. Coordination among agencies — City, county, state, federal, the chambers of commerce, private groups, as well as individuals need to be pulled together to improve our situation. Each of these entities has the capacity in some way to contribute to a cleaner Swain County. What can each of them contribute to a joint effort? Let’s find out.
2. County prisoners — For a number of years, state prisoners provided valuable help in keeping our county cleaner. We lost that program several years ago. In many communities, local county prisoners serve the same purpose. There are established guidelines for this type of program. The prisoners benefit by not being idle, receiving possible reductions of their sentences for community service, and being outdoors, and the community benefits with a cleaner environment.
3. Work with the business, school, government, and church communities — Most of these organizations already do a good job of keeping their places clean, but we can all do a better job of cleaning up around our places. Picking up one extra day a week can make a big difference.
4. Education program — The long-term solution, as well as the short-term solution to our litter problem, is the education of our children and through them the education of our community. There are a number of established litter awareness programs designed to be offered in schools, churches, 4-H, scouting, etc.
5. Sign regulations — Public rights of way are being overrun with signs. Limited designated sites should be established for these signs, and there should be a time limit for their removal. Signs for businesses that no longer exist should be removed. A voluntary code for sign development needs to be developed or adopted.
6. Work with homeowners — There are numerous abandoned mobile homes and automobiles in the county that could be scrapped for metal, etc. Many of the owners do not have the means to remove them. A coordinated effort to match the owner with scrap metal vendors might reduce these abandoned eyesores.
7. Advertisement — The use of the mass media for public service announcements as well as other means of getting the message out should be a part of a comprehensive approach to keeping our county clean. Special attention should be paid to fast food outlets and convenience stores, since they appear to be a major source of our roadside litter. Simple printed and verbal reminders requesting proper disposal might make a difference.
8. Enforcement of existing anti-litter laws and regulations — We want to take pride in the appearance of our county, with that pride being internal and not forced upon us. When the appeal to internal pride and discipline doesn’t work, then the existing laws pertaining to littering need to be enforced.
A plan should begin in Bryson City and work out from there on the major roads that we all travel each day. As the major corridors are cleaned up, we can move on to the less-travelled roads.
When I moved here, the Tuckaseigee River was nearly an open sewer. The Mead Paper Company dumped their waste directly into the river, and it flowed from Sylva to Lake Fontana. Scum was a common sight on the river. Organisms that depended on fresh water for life disappeared. Efforts to return the river to a livable, natural state have made tremendous progress. The river is scenic again; life has returned; we can fish and paddle in it; people want to camp near it, and the river is a major asset and source of pride to our county. Lake Fontana has also been revived through a community/government/business effort. With a coordinated, concerted effort, we can also reclaim our roadways and land.